Jim Siergey: I Get A Kick Out Of Peru

June 24th, 2017

The ninth of June was the 126th anniversary of the birth of Cole Porter.

For those who are not hip to the Cole-man, he was the toast of the town in the Big Apple and the golden boy of Broadway in the 1920s and ‘30s. A witty lyricist who coined the word ‘De-Lovely” and wrote many a hit musical containing such memorable tunes as Anything Goes, Love for Sale, Begin the Beguine, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Night and Day, I Get a Kick Out of You, I Love Paris, Don’t Fence Me In, You’re the Top, Miss Otis Regrets and paragraphs more.

In honor of the day, I drank my day’s quart and a half of coffee out of my souvenir Cole Porter mug from Peru, Indiana.

That’s where Mr. Porter was born.

My wife’s grandmother was also born in Peru and, in fact, went to elementary school with Cole. She eventually moved to Chicago but her son, my wife’s father, spent many a summer there with his grandparents. My wife, as well, often visited her great-grandparents there when she was a child.

One day, a few summers ago, my afore-mentioned wife and I decided to make a pilgrimage back to the old sod.

It was about a three hour drive from Chicago. We booked a room and sat in the motel’s lounge drinking coffee as we figured out how to find her grandparents’ house. All she remembered was that it was near train tracks and not far from the roundhouse.

Her grandfather worked on the railroad as an engineer.

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Don’t fence me in…

 

Someone sitting at a table nearby spoke up. He was a native Peruvian who had returned for his high school reunion. Overhearing our conversation, he realized that the area we were discussing was where he had grown up. He told us that it wasn’t very far from where we now were.

He suggested that we check the old phone books and censuses that were housed in the town museum. A block away was a storefront that housed the Wabash County Historical Museum, which also housed a Cole Porter exhibit, so we entered.

Small town museums are great. They’re not as hoity-toity as “important” museums can be. They are much more down-to-earth in their historical displays of town life. We browsed the toys and teapots, military memorabilia, Native American artifacts and other historical documents. Cole Porter’s black and chrome 1955 Cadillac was majestically enshrined behind velvet ropes.

Not only that, we found a bookcase full of directories that went decades and decades back in time. Found therein was the address of Cindy’s grandparents. It was walking distance away, so away we walked.

Addresses were not always visible on the houses so we asked a passing mailman if he knew where the one with our address stood. He pointed across the street to an abandoned and a bit dilapidated house and added “It’s for sale, if you’re interested.”

We went over to it. Of course, it was much smaller than Cindy remembered it but she was also much smaller when last there. We peered in the windows that we were able to peer through and, my, the rooms certainly were small.

Railroad tracks ran by the back of it, just a few feet away. No protective fence or anything, just bare tracks, free and easy, whistling in the wind as they curved right behind the old homestead and kept going for another block right into the roundhouse.

It was like stepping into another age.

We found the old homestead so now we had to find the grave sites. The cemetery wasn’t hard to locate and neither were Great Grandma and Great Grandpa’s plots. As we read the names and dates on their tombstones, we looked up into the distance where we espied some odd-looking structure that looked as if it needed our closer inspection.

So, off we went to inspect closer.

It was the grave site of Cole Porter. On an upraised grassy plot sat two rows of rounded stones. These rows sat in deference to a tall stone structure that kind of resembled a large marble tongue, extended skyward.

Was the rascally songwriter and free spirit, in death, giving one ever-lasting razzberry to the world, a lingual salute that will last night and day?

Well, anything goes.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Roundtable

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Jim Siergey: Roundtable

June 15th, 2017

Donald Trump’s recent cabinet meeting, where he went around the table and listened to each cabinet member’s evaluation of and true feelings about Himself, inspired me.

I’ve been feeling a bit down in the dumps lately and in need of a good ego boost so I gathered some family and friends around the dining room table and asked them to deliver their evaluations of and feelings toward me.

I was going to go so far as to wear a red tie but I didn’t want to unfairly influence anyone. So I stuck with my Pierogi Fest T-shirt from Whiting, Indiana. I admit that I was using it as a subliminal message to infer what a world traveler I am. It was a toss up between that one and my Save the Spindle T-Shirt from Berwyn.

Seated around the table were several people who have known me for most or, at least, a good deal of my life. My wife was there as she was a bit too slow in coming up with an excuse as to why she couldn’t attend. My sister was there because I said there would be cookies. A few old friends rounded out the group.

One was there because he happened to stop by inquiring about a loan…and when he would see any repayment. Another came because I said there would be cookies and another because I said there would be beer.

I neglected to add that there would be beer if he brought any but plenty of nice cold water would be available.

Everyone was seated with their glasses of Lake Michigan Straight and a plate of Dollar Store cookies within reach in the center of the table so I began.

“So, my dear, my light of my life,” I purred to my wife, sitting on my right, “What do you have to say about the years you have spent as my partner in this long and winding road we have traveled together on through the pitfalls and pinnacles of…”

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Gone but not forgotten…

 

“Must you?” she interjected.

“Wh-What do you mean?”

“Why must you embroider things so? It takes you forever to get to the point. In fact you rarely do get to the p—”

“I’m sorry, but…”

“Excuse me! You’re interrupting. How many times have I told you how much that bothers m—”

“Many times, but I—”

“You just did it again.”

“Yeah, but…”

“Besides your constant interruptions and your beating about the bush, you mumble. You’ve spent so much by yourself over the years that you forget that you need to enunciate when you’re speaking to another human being.”

“Imsrybut…”

“WHAT?”

“Um, so, that’s your evaluation? I’m a long-winded, mumbling interrupter? Are there no positive aspects of my being?”

“Oh, there are plent—some. In all, you’re…okay.” She said with a shrug. And a smile.

I quickly turned to my sister.

“Surely, being your big brother, you have learned from me and I have earned some admiration.”

After putting down the cookie she had just bitten into and inspecting her tooth to see whether it had cracked or not, she replied.

“My memories of you are filled with the many times you ended your pouring of a glass of milk for me by extending it upon my hand and up my arm and how you would stick your finger into the middle of my cupcake and tell me that I now have a donut and how you would…”

“NEXT!” I quickly hollered.

“Wasn’t there supposed to be beer?”

“Thank you. Next?”

“You’re a nice guy, Jim, but regarding that money, I could really…”

“Oh, my, just look at the time. I’d like to thank you all for coming h—”

“Hey! I didn’t get to say anything yet.”

“Oh, alryt. Gohed.”

“WHAT?”

“I said go ahead.”

“Ah, okay. These cookies suck.”

As you can see, my round table ego boost turned out differently than did Donald Trump’s.

I should have worn the tie.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Loving Joan Baez

 

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Jim Siergey: Loving Joan Baez

June 12th, 2017

We had tix to see Joan Baez at the Chicago Theatre.

Performance was scheduled to begin at 8:00 p.m. so at 6:30 we headed off to the Irving Park stop on the Brown Line to ride the el downtown.

Figured we had plenty o’ time.

The last time we saw Joan in concert was at the Auditorium Theatre in 1971. Just her and her guitar.

It was amazing.

This time she was joined by Mary Chapin Carpenter and The Indigo Girls. “Four Voices” it was called.

While waiting, virtually alone, on the platform, occasional announcements would be made informing us that there were delays.

As time went by, with the same announcements being made, the platform filled with people.

Finally, at 7:00, an announcement was made that the Brown Line was neither running north or south because of a fire on the tracks at Western.

We clambered down to the street, pondering what to do next. I saw a Yellow Cab and flagged it down.

Miracle of miracles, it was empty!

We got in. I told the driver we needed to get to State and Lake. Then some young guy opened the door as if he was going to get in the back seat with us.

He instructed the driver to put his valise in the trunk and the driver obliged. Then the kid opened the front door, telling the driver to move stuff over so he could sit down.

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Joan Baez–alive as she could be…

 

I asked him where he was headed. Clark and Lake he said. I said okay, thinking that we could split the fare.

Suddenly he exclaimed, “Hey, I’m in the wrong cab. You’re not the one I called. Pop the trunk!”

He exited, leaving the passenger door open. Driver closed it, got in, turned and looked at us, saying “I thought he was with you.”

Never saw the punk before in my life.

What with Rib Fest and the Cubs game recently ending, along with it being a beautiful but hot Sunday, traffic was stifling.

I directed the cabbie to take Damen north and get on the Drive at Montrose because Irving Park would be a madhouse.

As we crept eastward on Montrose, hope of getting to the show by 8:00 was dwindling.

But, another miracle!

Lake Shore Drive was wide open and we flew downtown. He dropped us off right in front of the Chicago Theatre at 7:30 whereupon I gave him a generous tip.

A throng of people were trying to fit into the few doors that were open. I felt like I was part of a mass of ground beef being funneled into a sausage grinder.

Inside, purses were looked into and everyone was wanded by security and we scrambled up three flights of stairs to our seats in the middle balcony.

At 8:10 the quartet entered from stage right to thunderous applause.

They opened with Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right. They took turns singing the verses. Joan took the last verse and in the closing line of “You just sorta wasted my precious time”, she did a dead-on impersonation of Bob Dylan.

It brought happy tears to my eyes.

From there on over the next two hours, Joan danced, played the kazoo, the harmonica and the guitar, which she still plays beautifully.

Her voice is deeper than it was in her prime. There were only a couple of instances where she reached the angelic heights of ethereal beauty that she was known for but she can still bring it.

Poignantly, she sang Woody Guthrie’s “Deportees” as well as what she said was the first song she’s written in eight years, a little ditty about the current occupant of the White House.

In her patter, she mentioned that people think of her as an optimist, always the seeing the glass as half full.

“It’s been half full, it’s been half empty, sometimes it’s been upside down with water all over the table but it’s never stopped me from doing all the things that I’ve done in my life.”

More thunderous applause.

Carpenter and the Indigo Girls performed their songs and they were great. I was familiar with them as artists but not with their oeuvre but most of the audience was. It was a great crowd.

They ended their set with The Times They Are A’Changin’ and after a long standing O, re-entered to do a couple of more tunes, concluding with The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

Joan Baez, 76 years old and still doing it and still doing it well.

“I’m supposed to be a bad ass”, she said at one point, “so I guess I have to try and live up to it.”

To our relief, the Brown Line was running again and we headed home with our hearts feeling a little lighter.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Majahua, Man!..

 

 

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Jim Siergey: Majahua, Man!

June 7th, 2017

I’ve been to Mexico many times and have found it a relaxing place to be. Time has no importance and problems are things to be forgotten.

In Mexico, there is always mañana. And if mañana never comes, well, hey, you had today.

My wife and I have visited various parts of Mexico on our own a few times but mostly, we stay with our friends, Blanca and Juan, who live in Chicago but also have a home in the country where they were born. It is in a little village called San Jeronomito.

Blanca has many relatives in other small villages near and not so near San Jeronomito. My wife and even I, who am never comfortable in the company of strangers whether at home or away, have accompanied her in visiting many of them.

One day, while relaxing in the courtyard of Blanca’s casa, a truckload of cousins, new to my wife and I, drove up. (In Mexico, loads of people sitting in the beds of pickup trucks is a normal way to travel en masse.) They visited for a bit and then invited us all to come out to their place by the ocean the next day.

The following morning a cousin with an empty pickup truck arrived and drove us out to a village called Majahua, which was over an hour away.

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Majahua man…

 

As we neared our destination, we first had to drive through Los Troncones, a village situated right on the ocean where rich Americans live. The road through that area is paved. As soon as we hit the city limits and entered Majahua, the road turned to dirt, gravel and ruts.

We bounced along past modest abodes of concrete, humble and practical, that were clustered together on the hilly slopes until we reached our destination and pulled into a canopied parking area.

Upon disembarking we were met by children, chickens, dogs, cats and Tio Tino and Tia Maria, uncle and aunt to Blanca. Tino and Maria are in their eighties but not typical American eighties. They are both straight and tall and move about with ease.

They welcomed us to their humble abode, surrounded by almendra trees, fig trees and coconut palms and onto a palm leaf-covered ramada adorned with several hammocks. Tino and Maria were so natural and at ease that I immediately felt as comfortable as a hound dog snoozing in the sun.

Tia Maria immediately went to work at her chimenea, an outdoor (almost everything is outdoors) clay stove with an open pit where a kindling-infused fire burns. She was cooking red snapper that was caught that morning from the ocean that waved at them a five minute walk away.

That fire-roasted pescado, seasoned only with sea salt, that we all sat at the table eating with our hands was the best fish, hands (and fins) down that I have ever eaten…and I ain’t just saying that. I did, however, say that to Tia Maria…in my pidgin Spanish.

The younger folks then led us down to the ocean, located on a rocky shore, just a stone’s throw from Tino and Maria’s abode. While in the surf, they knew where to walk in order to avoid the holes and sharp rocks that lay beneath so we followed carefully and then frolicked for a while in the crashing waves.

Upon our return to the house, we all chose a hammock and lazily lounged away. Tio Tino, all 83 years of him, asked if we’d like some coconuts. He pulled a long machete out from a roof rafter and went off.

He returned with an armload of coconuts which he dropped upon the floor and then deftly lopped off the tops and with the tip of the machete, gently cut a hole in each one where a straw could be inserted in order to suck up the cool water within. The coconuts were passed around and after we drained them, he chopped them up so we could feast on the white meat within.

I did mention that Mexico could be a relaxing place, didn’t I?

Later, Tia Maria made Camarones Diablo with shrimp, again, fresh from the ocean that we once again devoured sans utensils and once again, some of the best damn food I’ve ever feasted upon.

As dusk approached with nightfall nigh, we were chauffeured back to San Jeronomito in the Mexican limo (the pickup) but not before profusely thanking and embracing our hosts.

I repeat, despite knowing very little español, I cannot remember ever feeling as relaxed and comfortable as I did that day in Majahua, Mexico.

Buen Vibrations, indeed.

 

Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Auto Biography

 

 

 

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Randolph Street: Helmets Here

May 31st, 2017

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Chicago hosts the NFL Draft in lieu of a Superbowl. These photos are from Pioneer Court on Michigan Avenue.

 

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All photos © Jon Randolph 2015

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Jim Siergey: Auto Biography

May 30th, 2017

I never owned a car until I got married.

My wife’s father gifted us with one—a green 1961 Rambler Ambassador. It had a push button ignition. It also had holes in the floor, a defroster and wipers that didn’t work and the suspension was so bad that the tires looked knock-kneed.

Only the driver side door opened so passengers would need to crawl in and out of the windows. We were quite a sight to see when a carload of us pulled in somewhere and the vehicle was exited. Fortunately, we were all young and supple back then.

The hood needed to be tied down with wire, something I learned when it flew up in front of the windshield while I was driving. We kept a package of birthday candles in the glove box for when that windshield needed defrosting. We would light them, line them up in front of the window and make a wish.

A hunka junk, one might say, but that baby would start up every day, no matter how many degrees it got below zero. It also had a 380 block engine. It would beat any car on the street…and it did.

The Rambler lasted about a year before the body finally disintegrated beyond safe usage. The floor had gotten to the point where only the likes of Fred Flintstone could drive it.

So, my father-in-law, who loved to buy cars at a premium price and fix them up so they would run, gifted us with another—a 1967 fire engine red Opel Kadett.

It was fun to drive but it was basically a four-wheeled tin can. One could actually dent the body with one’s thumb. While changing a tire one winter, the jack slipped and I was able to hold the car up with my shoulder until I could slide a tire under the exposed wheel.

 

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Cool car…

 

And I ain’t no Charles Atlas.

It made a whirring sound when it was running and I often referred to it as a sewing machine on wheels.

Fun fact: While recently doing a Sunday crossword puzzle, OPEL was the answer to the clue…”European automaker that was originally a sewing machine company”.

As I said, the Opel was fun to drive. It was a sporty little number but it did not like precipitation at all. With merely a hint of dampness in the air, it’d refuse to start. Once it died on me when a rainstorm broke out as I was driving on Lake Shore Drive.

We changed the wiring and spark plugs but to no avail. My neighbor, who had an amusing car of his own, a Renault, would often get behind my Opel and push start me. The front end of his car and the back end of mine had matching mashed in areas.

The car was so light that, after a while, either my wife or I could jump start it by ourselves.

We’d turn the key, open the driver’s door and begin pushing it up Glenwood Avenue. When we got it to the right speed, we’d hop in, pop the clutch and hope the traffic light on Ridge Avenue wouldn’t change to red so we could zip through with our car that now, like Frankenstein’s monster, had suddenly sprung to life.

Car stories—everybody’s got a million of ‘em. In a naked city like this, there might even be eight million stories. This has been two of them.

 

Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Roger Moore

 

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Jim Siergey: Roger Moore

May 24th, 2017

I know that Roger Moore, excuse me, Sir Roger Moore, first hit renown portraying Simon Templar aka The Saint in a British TV adaptation of Leslie Charteris’ novels.

I also know that he portrayed super British secret agent 007, James Bond, in seven, count ‘em seven James Bond movies.

However, to me, he will always be known as Cousin Beau from the American TV series Maverick.

I suppose that is because my first introduction to him was in that role. The whimsical western, Maverick, aired from 1957-1962. The stars were James Garner and Jack Kelly, although Garner was really the star. The two would alternate between episodes and I was always disappointed when one starring only Kelly would come on.

Garner left the series after three seasons and was eventually replaced by Roger Moore, a “cousin” of the Mavericks. He explained away his accent by the fact that he had spent the past three years living in England. Moore brought a light-heartedness to the role that was similar to Garner’s approach but the show was gasping and panting as it struggled to finish a fifth and final season.

That was my introduction to Roger Moore. He would pop up now and then on other TV shows like 77 Sunset Strip and The Roaring Twenties. Years later, reruns of the British TV show The Saint would appear on American television.

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Roger Moore: 1929-2017

 

To me, he always seemed to play the same role, a suave and debonair gentleman with a devil-may-care attitude who came complete with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk in the corner of his mouth.

That’s how he played James Bond too.

At least, I suppose he did. I never could stomach the idea of him as 007. I was unable to ever make it all the way through an entire one but I watched parts of a few of his Bond films. To me, he was never James Bond, he was Roger Moore.

A’course, my introduction to James Bond films was Sean Connery. In high school I read all of the Bond books and Connery fit Ian Fleming’s description of the spy to a T. So, he was and always will be 007.

I liked the other actors who came after Connery i.e. George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. I recently watched my first Bond film in many a year starring the new guy, Daniel Craig, and he was all right too.

Moore….was less. At least, for my eyes only, he was.

Apparently, Moore was a good guy in un-reel life. He abhorred guns, worked for UNICEF and PETA and had a self-deprecating view of himself. One other point in his favor is that he began his career in animation.

I came across a quote from Sir Roger and it agrees with my description of his acting. Here it is…

“In theatrical terms, I’ve never had a part that demands much of me,” he added. “The only way I’ve had to extend myself has been to carry on charming.”

Charming he was, sometimes to a fault, but it worked fine as Cousin Beau.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Home, Tweet, Home

 

 

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